In a personal sense, Dracula was the first horror film for me – the first horror film that I saw. It was late on a Friday night – November 6, 1970 – on Westward Television, who had the ITV franchise for the South West of England at that time. Slightly younger generations of horror fans first saw the Universal and Hammer horror films on BBC2 on Saturday night double bills in the mid- to late 1970s, but the license to key horror titles was with ITV before then and each region had its own ‘Appointment with Fear’ slot. Westward screened the first four Frankenstein films, then the three Dracula movies, then The WereWolf of London (1935) and The Wolf Man (1941) … before taking a break of a year or so and picking up the series with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) and successors. I’d become aware of the screenings, but had to work up courage to watch any of the films. It seems strange now, but television at that time was capable of terrifying things, from Dr Who to A Ghost Story for Christmas … and at eleven I could still be struck with night terrors after even the mildest fright in a comedy or variety program, but was still drawn to monsters and the macabre.
If I had got up the nerve, my first horror film might have been The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) … which, at eleven, I would have loved, but I doubt would have permeated my worldview the way Dracula did.
Overnight, I became – in no particular order – a horror fan, a film fan, a fan of classic horror literature, and a Dracula obsessive. I was set on a path that led me to a career writing about film – and also to writing horror fiction. Drawn to Dracula as an all-encompassing subject, I eventually wrote a series of novels (and a comic book) which began with Anno Dracula (1992). It’s a subject that – as Lugosi first noticed, perhaps with ambiguity – never dies. Many horror historians have prematurely buried this film, or skipped over it to get to their pets – but it will not rest.
So it begins, with Swan Lake … an art deco bat motif … a coach rattling up a road in the Californian Carpathians … the brides, the armadillos, a bug in a crypt, coffins … and the man with the highlit eyes.
I … am … Dracula.
Extract from my introduction to Dracula AD 1931 by Matthew Coniam.